For the first time in the proud history of Synthetic Remarks — a guest post. You like food? You like drugs? Then this is for you. Here we go!

The interesting thing about working within food science R&D after a Ph.D. and subsequent post-doc in organic chemistry and decade in medicinal chemistry is how closely related the two subjects can be.

This is, of course, no surprise. Food science (really just a branch of organic chemistry IMHO), and the area in which I work, dairy, is concerned with the chemistry of lipids, phospholipids, proteins (including many types of native enzyme), sugars, vitamins, and minerals which is really not a million miles away from the kind of stuff you find in pharmaceutical research.

So, in my present work I think about things like enzyme kinetics, substrate inhibition, ion strength, lipid and protein oxidation, fermentation curves, proteolysis, the Maillard reaction, Amadori and Huyn’s rearrangement, Strecker chemistry (if you are a carbohydrate chemist, none of this is news to you) and lots of other stuff too, related in this case to organoleptics, safety, nutrition and shelf life.

Pills and stake
Figure 1.Pills and steak.

Recently I have noticed an increasing blurring of the lines between food or nutrition and medicine (Figure 1). For example, flavonoids from Camellia sinensis, green tea, have received much attention for their antioxidant behaviour as well as their ability to hinder onset of the Maillard reaction (there is some interesting work out there illustrating the use of ITC to quantify the interactions of flavonoids with proteins and lipids). This chemistry has very useful applications in food science, but we also see examples of studies looking at limiting “carbonyl stress” in a medical context, see for example this, this and this.

There is also an established interest in ACE inhibiting peptides from milk protein, see here and here.

The International Dairy Journal paper is quite interesting, showing reduction of systolic blood pressure in rats upon oral administration of peptides from hydrolysed casein, although none of them were as effective as the reference Zofenopril.

OK, some pretty neat stuff.

What I really wanted to mention was this, as someone who has worked with GSK3β and γ-secretase (and all the issues that these particular targets have, I’m looking at you Notch signalling pathway and several diverse kinases) it really caught my attention. This was work conducted by scientists at MIT, subsequently patented and, I believe, licensed solely to Nutricia. Initial trials looked promising, see here and here, and apparently the product, called Souvenaid© was found to be comparable to cholinesterase inhibitors but with an improved safety profile.

To my mind this kind of work is interesting, but there are regulatory implications, and these are being addressed by authorities such as EFSA (if you Google a bit, you’ll see just how many “health claims” for foods and beverages have been rejected by EFSA), the FDA and FSANZ (historically this has been rather unregulated, so kudos to these bodies for addressing this). It remains to be seen how the relevant authorities in other parts of the world will choose to handle future products of this type, but one thing is for sure, functional nutritional products are developing rapidly and are here to stay.

About the author

Colin Ray has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and first met Dr. Freddy nearly a decade and a half ago while conducting post-doctoral research with Prof. Peter Somfai at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden. After a decade as a medicinal chemist and project leader for a big pharmaceutical company in Sweden, Colin decided to pursue a career within food science. Today, he is a project leader and responsible for the research platform in functional enzymes at one of Europe’s largest dairy companies. Note that the views expressed herein are entirely the author’s own.


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